Biomass is organic material that comes from plants and animals, and it is a renewable source of energy.
Biomass contains stored energy from the sun. Plants absorb the sun's energy in a process called photosynthesis. When biomass is burned, the chemical energy in biomass is released as heat. Biomass can be burned directly or converted to liquid biofuels or biogas that can be burned as fuels.
Examples of biomass and their uses for energy:
Wood and wood processing wastes—burned to heat buildings, to produce process heat in industry, and to generate electricity
Agricultural crops and waste materials—burned as a fuel or converted to liquid biofuels
Food, yard, and wood waste in garbage—burned to generate electricity in power plants or converted to biogas in landfills
Animal manure and human sewage—converted to biogas, which can be burned as a fuel.
Converting biomass to energy
Solid biomass, such as wood and garbage, can be burned directly to produce heat. Biomass can also be converted into a gas called biogasor into liquid biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. These fuels can then be burned for energy.
Biogas forms when paper, food scraps, and yard waste decompose in landfills, and it can be produced by processing sewage and animal manure in special vessels called digesters.
Ethanol is made from crops such as corn and sugar cane that are fermented to produce fuel ethanol for use in vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from vegetable oils and animal fats and can be used in vehicles and as heating oil.